Saturday, June 13, 2015

Monthly Native Plant Profile: #2 Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

(Black Gum, Center-Background, to right of house)

Black Gum - Nyssa sylvatica 

This tree's native range is throughout the South, Midwest, and into North Eastern America. As the leaves mature, they grow a glossy coating, with delicate texture on numerous, thin branches and twigs. Black Bears as well as songbirds utilize the fruit where possible.

Black Gum isn't the strongest grain of wood available amongst our natives, but its growth habit lends itself to be safe next to 2-3 floor homes. Topping out at 50' in most conditions, the tree more so grows wide in a pyramidal tree formation. These means, unlike some of high and heavy branching native trees such as Hickory (Carya sp.), and Oak (Quercus sp.), this one is less likely to severely damage a home if a branch does break in a storm and contact the house. 

In the Cincinnati Metropolitan, Black Gum thrives naturally in sub 6.5 ph soils. In fact, when seen in local forest composition, Pioneer Landscapes uses Black gum as an acidic soil indicator when associated with other acidic soil obligates such as Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) or Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava). This doesn't mean these trees won't grow in landscape conditions in a ph higher than 6.5, it just goes to say that it hasn't been seen to naturally occur locally in forest compositions under those conditions. 

Black gum grows slow in drier, clay heavy soils, but is adapted to them. In fact, Black Gum doesn't care to much about water availability or soil texture ranging from high ridge conditions in sandy soils atop the Appalachian Mountain range, to high water table saturated conditions in clay soils in the glaciated plains of Southwest Ohio. What those two environments have in common are acidity, therefor that seems to be what allows Black gum to thrive without assistance from humans. It is also intermediate in shade tolerance reproducing in the understory of mature Sugar Maple-Beech forest types as a minority species. 

Doug Tallamy, has compiled data on 26 different moths and butterflies that use Black Gum and the Nyssa genus as host plants. If you're looking to brighten your yard, or choose an adapted tree for your sub 6.5ph soil type, consider black gum for its wildlife attributes, and natural beauty. 

(Plant a black gum from a sapling today, and 10-15 years from now.....)

(One of it's most shocking attributes is the burgundy fall color, exhibited in local genotype)

To learn more about the soil relationships with native trees, please email to register for our upcoming (June 20th, 21st, and 27th (9:30-12:30)) "Seeing Forests from the Soils" workshop. See details here.

Follow Pioneer Landscapes on Facebook to receive Monthly and sometimes weekly educational video clips, pictures, and profiles on native plants and their habitats including these Nature In Humanity blog posts. 

Also see our main website here


  1. Great timing with this post! The Hamilton County Soil & Water District is doing a tree sale and this is one of the trees I was thinking about getting. Thanks!

    1. Glad you found this information before the purchase :-)